Tel Aviv has been hailed as the gay mecca in the Middle East. Baked in the tropical sun and constantly caressed by the gentle azure waves of the Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv is the most progressive and liberal city in the region that is relatively free from persecution by religions. This is surprising for a country which is the birthplace of the most destructive religions in human history – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – and is still in perpetual strife because of them. Tel Aviv is indeed an oasis that can hopefully one day become the future of the Middle East. Here are 7 things you should consider doing in and outside of Tel Aviv when you visit!
Stay in a beachfront hotel and lounge on the gay beach
The Tel Aviv Promenade is the city’s spanking new beachfront that stretches 6km from the mouth of the Yarkon River to the Old Jaffa Port. Completely renovated in 2011, the promenade features a continuous chain of beach bars, restaurants, open-air gyms, and various sports facilities. There are broad lanes running on the side, which are divided into sidewalks for joggers and walkers, and lanes for electric scooters, bicycles and roller-skaters.
Throughout the day, there are throngs of people here either exercising, swimming in the sea, suntanning, playing sports or simply chilling out. It is so filled with energy and chill vibes! And that makes people-watching so much fun!
For this reason, you should definitely consider staying at one of the beachfront hotels, such as Crowne Plaza, Carlton or Hilton, for easy, continued access to the beaches.
The Tel Aviv Gay Beach is located in front of the Hilton Hotel. With your back facing the hotel, it is the beach on your right with a playground for children (duh?!). The funny thing is that it faces directly the Nordau Beach which is reserved for Orthodox Jews.
Seeing that this tiny beach is probably the only gay beach in the whole of this religion-drenched part of the world, make it a point to come here to flaunt your skin, as a nod to human civilisation and advancements in science, logic and philosophy!
Watch the sunset in a beach bar
Situated on the left side of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel probably has the best sunset view of all countries around! And Tel Aviv, with its upmarket beach bars and restaurants, certainly gives you the best experience!
Make it a beautiful experience with great wines, upbeat music, freshly made Middle Eastern fare, while gazing out into the sea as the sun glows in orange as it dips slowly below the horizon. Don’t forget to book a table in advance because it gets really busy!
Brunch with the locals and drink pomegranate juice
Brunch is an important weekly affairs for Tel Aviv natives. Especially during the weekends. You should either book in advance or be prepared to queue until a table is available.
And when you have your brunch, don’t forget to order these amazing pomegranate juice! I had never had such delicious pomegranate juice ever. It is sweet and fragrant and refreshing!
Float in the Dead Sea
When in Tel Aviv, you shouldn’t just swim in the Mediterranean Sea, you should also try floating on the Dead Sea!
The Dead Sea is actually not a sea, but a salt lake. Bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel to the west, it is the deepest saline lake in the world. It is even deeper in reality, because it is located at 430.5m below sea level, and is Earth’s lowest elevation on land.
The great thing about swimming in the Dead Sea is that you would never drown. I have tried plunging myself in and I floated right back up. Although that was a stupid move because the saltwater stung my eyes so badly.
A word of caution: the Dead Sea is dying. It is drying up because of the diversion of water that normally feeds into the lake. This is causing the sudden appearance of giant sinkholes which makes it extremely dangerous for you to swim in unauthorised shores of the Dead Sea.
Another word of caution: the Dead Sea mud is said to be a great beauty product used even by Cleopatra, due to the presence of heavy metals. My skin did feel nice and smooth after smearing myself with it. There are reports of immediate allergic reactions, so try out a little bit on your arm and wait before you go into the sea. The Dead Sea is dying also because of the over-harvesting of the mud for beauty products. Many of these products on sale are fake, as there is only one company that is authorised to excavate the Dead Sea mud. Even when the mud is real, it is most likely illegal and is killing off the Dead Sea right now at an alarming rate.
Climb up the Mountain-Top Herodian Palace of Masada
Next to the Dead Sea is a gigantic palace fortress called Masada, built by King Herod the Great two thousand years ago. Read my detailed post about Masada.
Stand on the ancient piers of the Roman port-cty of Caesarea
Caesarea used to be Rome’s largest port in the whole empire. It fell to the Arab invasion and has only recently been excavated by pushing back the shoreline. Read my detailed post about Caesarea.
Explore the underground tunnels of the Crusaders in Acre
Acre is located in the northern tip of Israel. Known in Hebrew as Akko and in Arabic as Akka, Acre is occupied since the Early Bronze Age around 3000 BC and is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited settlements on Earth!
But the biggest reason now to visit Acre is to explore its Crusader history. It was not only the site of various battles between the Crusaders and the Arabs, it was also the last city held by the Crusaders before it was captured in 1291.
The Old City of Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Hospitaller fortress is a complex of halls and buildings which is remarkably well preserved. It contains six meeting halls, a dining room, a church and a dungeon, as well as residential areas for merchants.
Another thing you have to do in Acre is to explore the secret tunnels built by the Knight Templars 800 years ago. The network of tunnels was used by the Knight Templars to transport gold to the Treasure Tower, and are still snaking under the streets of the old city. Some of these tunnels have recently been excavated and restored and you can crawl through some of them to experience life as a Knight Templar then.
Don’t forget to stay for dinner in Acre! The prices here are lower than in Tel Aviv and the service is authentic and warm! Not to mention the quality of the food, it is definitely superior.
Warning: Not for the claustrophobes, people who are afraid of the dark or those with bad backs!
How to get to Tel Aviv
You can only go in and out of Israel by air, no thanks to its hostile neighbours. The Ben Gurion Airport is conveniently located close to the city.
Before you go
There are two things which you should be aware of before you go, as it caught us by surprise:
Costs: Israel is an extremely expensive country. We didn’t know why this was not more known. For a regular Western European, a single-course meal with wine at a regular restaurant should not cost more than 60 euros per person. In Israel, it can easily go up to 80 or 100 euros. A sandwich meal here can cost between 15-25 euros.
Tipping: Apart from the high costs of food and drinks here, everything is so Americanised. This includes the exaggerated level of attention, the fake familiarity of waiting staff and their no-negotiations attitude. Which means, you have to pay around 15-20% tip on top of what you pay for your meal.